album review: hollis brown – ride on the train

frontier ruckus @ local 506

oh the south and the sun never felt so good

Sometimes it takes me a while to warm up to albums; and sometimes, I fall in love with them literally from the first notes of the first song. The title track from Hollis Brown’s debut LP, “Ride On The Train”, gives exactly the feeling of riding on a train, the guitars and drums chugging along behind Mike Montali’s warm, plaintive voice, in an anthem about the life of a touring musician. I fell hard, fast, and permanently for Hollis Brown’s sound within fifteen seconds, and the rest of the album didn’t dissuade me of that. “Down On Your Luck” could be straight off a Gram Parsons record, crunchy Southern-fried guitars and subtle backing vocals, the guitar solo in the break; it’s all vintage, music from people who’ve studied those who came before them and learned it and loved it, and then taken it into their hearts and minds and souls, and made their own.

Named after a Dylan song, I really do think that Hollis Brown are closer to Gram Parsons, or some of the twangier Stones stuff, than Dylan himself; they’re large and anthemic songs, with the chorusing guitars of the ’70s Stones and the plaint of Gram, and while some bands with guitar talent like Hollis Brown has can describe into what I call “guitar wanking” and have little patience for, every one of guitarist Jon Bonilla’s solos and melodies in the forefront sounds relevant, compelling, pushing the songs onto to something larger. Ride On The Train is a record with a sense of humor, as well, with the tongue in cheek lyrics of “Nothing & The Famous One” and that track’s drifting to a close with a whistle and not another care in the world.

Hollis Brown’s ability to straddle genres, sounds, generations, decades, and the strength of their songwriting — catchy, full of hooks, but also full of meaning, thoughtful and well considered — is going to take them far. I can’t wait to see how this record sounds live.

Stream “Walk On Water” below, and catch Hollis Brown opening for Desert Noises at Local 506 tomorrow, 3/27, at 9PM. $10 at the door.

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